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A student veteran’s response to guns on campus

No matter what side of the argument you’re on, you know there’s a gun problem in America. If you’re a gun control advocate, you acknowledge that there are some major issues with how our laws and culture deal with firearms. If you’re a gun rights enthusiast, well, the problem is simple: there aren’t enough guns scattered around for everyone.

Such is the argument made in a recent Daily Illini article entitled “Students should have the right to bear arms on campus” by Stephanie Youssef. We need more guns all the time because… well, The 2nd Amendment exists. Oh, and the NRA.

You wouldn’t be reading this if The Daily Illini had simply approved the comment I submitted on their website. In typical Ministry of Truth fashion, they’ve disturbingly approved only one comment since the article’s publication, and of course the comment is in agreement with the column’s stance. Incidentally, the DI’s opinion Twitter account removed their tweet announcement of this article and another fantastic article they recently published (and both of my tweets in response). Clearly, the DI staff doesn’t want to inspire discussion, so in the spirit of talking at people instead of talking with them, as Youssef’s column is now doing, here is my response:

My point of view on the matter is somewhat unique. I’m an undergrad at U of I, but also a USMC veteran. Most veterans I know would probably disagree with my stance on concealed carry, heck they even help teach area classes so people can receive their permits. More power to them. Why, though, would I disagree with this op-ed on permitting college students to carry firearms around campus?

When I deployed to Afghanistan in 2010, I was literally surrounded by guns for seven months straight. All different shapes and sizes. I had to sleep with my M16, a terrible cuddling partner by the way. Even many of the civilian contractors wandering around Camp Leatherneck were packing heat.

My point is that I’ve actually experienced a culture where guns are everywhere all the time, and I probably have a right to state my opinion more so than someone who has never experienced this type of environment. Anyway, I did not feel safer surrounded by guns, and it has nothing to do with the type of gun or the nature of the situation. I was stationed at three relatively safe locations in that charming country, and at the time I was there, we carried our weapons unloaded. 

But why would I not feel secure surrounded by my uniformed allies? Honestly, if I can’t trust Major Nidal Hasan, an officer commissioned by the president, how am I supposed to trust the privates and sergeants, or the Afghan National Army or Afghan National Police for that matter? In that case, how in the hell am I expected to feel safer in the hands of twenty-one-year-old college students carrying guns on my beautiful campus?

No, I don’t have general trust issues with the student body, but as we know, people can be pretty stupid sometimes. What Youssef calls “excessive conditions” added to the second amendment (U of I not allowing concealed carry on school property) actually seems perfectly reasonable to me.

It takes sixteen hours of training in Illinois to be qualified to apply for a concealed carry permit. That’s less time than many undergrads are spending in class per week, and what they’re supposed to learn in those sixteen hours is pretty important stuff. You really expect me to believe that campus will be safer filled with armed students who’ve had two days worth of gun training and potentially zero experience with firearms?

In Afghanistan, we had a common enemy: the Taliban. My comrades and I were all on the same side together, and like I said, I still didn’t trust anyone with their guns around me. I guess students at U of I have common enemies though, like sleep deprivation, student loan debt, hangovers, and class on really cold days. It’s naïve to think that these struggles bring us together and unify us as a student body; everyone is here for themselves, not their classmates. With that in mind, how could you possibly think that an armed student body is always looking out for your best interests when they pull that Glock out of a holster?

In high school health class, we were regaled with stories from a police officer detailing local shootouts in the C-U area. Apparently cops and criminals have a hard time aiming, and in some cases never hit their targets at all. Let’s say someone pulls a gun while we’re eating at Chipotle and three students pull their weapons out to come to our rescue. It’s not going to be a one shot, one kill situation. Sixteen hours of training does not ensure that, especially if hundreds of hours of training for military and law enforcement personnel doesn’t ensure it. There’s going to be collateral damage in a situation like this. It’s not as simple as good guys stopping bad guys, even if the NRA says so.

Frankly, I don’t have a simple solution for the gun problem in our country. It’s complicated, and it’s compounded by how flawed our society and government is. It’s not an easy fix to say the least. I do know a couple things though. One is that it’s not the general population’s responsibility to arm themselves and fight crime willy nilly like a bunch of rabid vigilantes. It’s not 1776 anymore, and like a friend recently pointed out to me, the second amendment was designed to make America more dangerous, not more safe.

Another thing I know is that when you have a rampant problem with school shootings, even as close as NIU, which Youssef puzzlingly failed to acknowledge, you don’t put more guns on a college campus to solve it. Our society is far from perfect, but we’re not going to improve ourselves while worrying about what someone may or may not have strapped on under their t-shirt during lecture.

But I guess if the National Rifle Association says, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” then that’s probably good, unbiased advice.

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